Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, Cleveland: Old-fashioned "leatherhead" football helmets from the early 1900s are often as effective as and sometimes better than modern football helmets at protecting against injuries during routine, game-like collisions, according to Cleveland Clinic researchers.
The study published online Nov. 4 by the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine compared head injury risks of two early 20th Century leatherhead helmets with 11 top-ofthe-line 21st Century polycarbonate helmets.
In their biomechanics lab, Cleveland Clinic researchers conducted impact tests, crashing helmets together at severities on par with 95 percent of on-field collisions (75 g-forces or less) in collegiate and high school football games. For this study, researchers analyzed hits that are common in games and practices hits that taken separately may not seem perilous but when added together may lead to serious long-term injury.
For many of the impacts and angles studied in the lab, the researchers found that leather helmets offered similar, or even better, protection than modern helmets.
"The point of this study is not to advocate for a return to leather helmets but, rather, to test the notion that modern helmets must be more protective than older helmets simply because 'newer must be better,'" said lead researcher Adam Bartsch, Ph.D., Director of the Spine Research Lab in Cleveland Clinic's Center for Spine Health. "Unlike cars, in which seat belts, airbags and crumple zones make the choice between a 1920's Model T and modern mini-van a no-brainer, these results tell us that modern helmets have ample room to improve safety against many typical game-like hits."
Though head and neck injuries were greatly reduced after football helmet standards and rule changes were instituted in 1970's and 1980's, the incidence of concussions have continued to increase. In fact, concussions are the leading cause of brain damage in sports, particu
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